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Clayton’s Sacraments?

There’s a sacramental storm started. The Vatican has declared that any individual variations to the authorised words that the person pouring or immersing uses at the time of baptism makes the “baptism” not just irregular but invalid. Specifically, changing “N, I baptise you…” to “N, we baptise you…” means, according to the Vatican, that no baptism has taken place. [Read the official ruling here].

This has become newsworthy with Father Matthew Hood of the Archdiocese of Detroit. Recently watching the video of his baptism, he noticed that he was “baptised” by a Roman Catholic deacon who said, “we baptise you…” rather than “I baptise you…”

This means, in Vatican theology, that Matthew Hood was not a priest. Obviously, you don’t need to be a priest to baptise, so Matthew Hood’s baptisms are valid – according to this approach – but his eucharists, absolutions, anointing, confirmations, and marriages were not.

Following this understanding, there will be many, many more cases like this – and the publicity around this will have many, many people wondering, for example: “is my marriage valid?”

Let me say, at the outset, that I am not in favour of breaking our agreements – in my Church, we vow and sign to use, “N, I baptise…” (NZPB/HKMA p. 386) But I am not about to say that those who use other words are invalid. Eastern Orthodox use:

The servant of God (name) is baptised in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Holy Baptism page 59

I did a quick online search of “we baptise” (and “we baptize”) and found a plethora of mainline churches and denominations that use that language. By the Vatican ruling, ecumenical agreements may be being dismantled. Mutual recognition of baptism is at risk.

The concept of a baptismal “form” (the words required to be said at the time of the sacramental action) dates from the 13th Century. I argue that verbally proclaiming “…in the name of the Father, and of the Son…” at the time of the baptism is a lens we use to read such a form back into early documents. Early church mentions of baptising “in the name of…” can be seen as baptising on behalf of and into the nature of rather than the verbal proclamation(s) that we now associate with such language. If you want to follow this thinking read:

Baptised in Paul’s Name (Part 1)
Baptised in Paul’s Name (Part 2)
How to Baptise?


Baptism in the name of is not what you think

Let me repeat – for those who misunderstand my point – I am not advocating for abandoning the agreements that we vowed to and signed up for by altering our agreed wording. This is simply suggesting that if not using these currently-authorised words is used to argue that baptism (and hence all subsequent sacraments) are thereby invalid, then the logical consequence might be that possibly all sacraments are no longer valid because these words were not used in the early church.

Part of the discussion around using “I baptise…” rather than “We baptise…” focuses on the theological understanding of baptising. The former has a focus on the one baptising doing this in persona Christi (in the person of Christ). The later wording may more stress that the one baptising is doing this in nomine ecclesiae (in the name of the gathered community). Might I suggest that the distinction is not this binary. The one baptising is doing both – acting in persona Christi and in nomine ecclesiae. Furthermore, the gathered community, the church, is the Body of Christ.


The RC Church has just opened a myriad of drum barrels of worms for itself. Many people who take the Detroit/Vatican approach will be going back over videos; others will wonder how widespread the “we baptise”-practice was (is?), whether their marriage is valid, etc…


Read more about this on the Detroit Catholic website. [Would you call “I baptise you…” a “prayer”? That page does.]
More here, here, and here.

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16 thoughts on “Clayton’s Sacraments?”

  1. As that great theologian of the 19th century, Queen Victoria, was wont to say, “We are not amused.” 🙂

  2. This reminds me of the conflict among some Episcopalians regarding the Rt Revd Carolyn Tanner Irish, retired Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah.

    Carolyn was born into a Latter-day Saint family and was baptized at the age of 8, by full emersion, according to the customs of the LDS Church. As a college student, she stopped attending the LDS Church. Later as a mother, she started attending the Episcopal Church for her children. She felt very at home in TEC and soon felt a call to ordained ministry.

    She was accepted into TEC as a previously baptized Christian. She was later ordained based on her previous baptism. However, there are conservative members of TEC and the Anglican Communion who argue that her baptism was invalid and so her orders were also invalid.

    The LDS Church is very strict regarding the sacrament of baptism. The baptismal prayer/statement has to be exact or the officiant is stopped by either of two witnesses and must repeat it;
    N: Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

    The person is then fully submersed and everything, arms, legs, feet, even their hair, must be fully under the water at one time or the witnesses order that rite is repeated. Following baptism, the person is confirmed as a member of the Church and given the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.

    *A priest (usually 16 – 18 yrs old) in the Aaronic Priesthood and anyone who holds the Melchizadek Priesthood may baptize when authorized by the local bishop of the candidate. For children, this is often their father or grandfather, a brother, an uncle or close family friend. For converts, it is usually one of the elders who taught them and brought them into the church.

    1. Thanks, David.

      I am certain that I have come across somewhere the theory that being ordained bishop corrects any previous invalid or irregular sacraments – so that the continuing of apostolic episcopal succession is assured. I cannot recall where I encountered this idea. Maybe a reader of this comment can.


  3. Bosco, as I recall, in the BCP, the determination as to whether a person is baptized rests on whether the baptism was
    – with water
    – in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
    and leads to conditional baptism if these are missing or uncertain.
    BCP appears to be silent as to whether the words are I baptize… or We baptize…


    1. You are correct, thanks, Ian:

      But if they which bring the Infant to the Church do make such uncertain answers to the Priest’s questions, as that it cannot appear that the Child was baptized with Water, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, (which are essential parts of Baptism,) then let the Priest baptize it in the form before appointed for Publick Baptism of Infants: Saving that at the dipping of the Child in the Font, he shall use this form of words.

      IF thou art not already baptized, N. I baptize thee in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.


  4. OK, I give up. I’ve reread the article twice more times and I don’t see what I’m missing.

    Who is Clayton?

  5. This is certainly a perplexing development! I can’t help but think of when, in the year 746, the English missionary St. Boniface encountered Christians who had been baptized by a Bavarian priest who hadn’t pronounced the Latin words correctly. The priest had said, “Baptizo te in nomine patria et filia et spiritus sancti,” which, if construed literally, would mean something like “I baptize you both in the name of the Holy Spirit, and with the fatherland and with the daughter.” Boniface ordered that such persons needed to be baptized afresh, since the formula used in their attempted baptism had not been sufficient to make them Christians.

    But word of this reached Pope Zacharias in Rome. He wrote to Boniface to say that these baptisms did *not* need to be repeated. Here’s the relevant passage of the letter, in my own “dynamic equivalence” translation:

    My most holy brother, if the priest who performed the baptism spoke in this way only because he made a mistake in the language through ignorance of Roman speech, and not because he was trying to introduce error or heresy, I am unable to agree that these persons should be baptized again. For as you already well know, my holy brother, when someone comes to the Church having been baptized by heretics, so long as they baptized him “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” he ought to be cleansed by the laying on of hands, but under no condition is he to be rebaptized.

    (The Latin original can be consulted freely at the digital Monumenta Germaniae Historica: https://www.dmgh.de/mgh_epp_sel_1/index.htm#page/140/mode/1up.)

    Now, in the case that led to the submission of these dubia to the CDF, it doesn’t seem that the priest who performed the baptism could be excused because of incompetence to pronounce the English form correctly. So, perhaps the CDF has concluded that when a Catholic priest has deliberately changed “I” to “we,” he really must have intended to “introduce error or heresy” into the sacramental form?

    I’m hopeful that the ecumenical implications of this decision may turn out not to be as serious as we fear. It’s not just Eastern Orthodox baptismal rites that say, “The servant of God, N., is baptized…”, but also the rites used by the Eastern Churches in full communion with Rome, e.g., Ukrainian Greco-Catholics (https://royaldoors.net/2012/07/order-of-holy-baptism-and-chrismation/). I would conclude, therefore, that this ruling need have no ecumenical implications at all: it can only be understood to apply to Latin-Rite Catholics.

    There’s a possibly helpful analogy in Roman Catholic approaches to the validity of marriages, which depends not only on sacramental form, but on “canonical form.” Baptized Catholics must marry “in the Church,” i.e., in a ceremony witnessed by the local Catholic bishop, a priest, a deacon, or another formally appointed delegate, in the presence of two additional witnesses. Otherwise, the marriage is considered *invalid*, even if the sacramental form is correctly used (1983 Codex iuris canonici no. 1108). This rule dates only from the Council of Trent, which passed it (after contentious debate) as a way of preventing “clandestine marriages” (i.e., marriages contracted by younger people without parental permission).

    To this day, a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic who contract their marriage in a Protestant ceremony are regarded as invalidly married by the Catholic Church. (This was the case of my sister and her Catholic husband: their marriage was solemnized by a Protestant minister, and the marriage had to be “convalidated” when my sister was later received into the Catholic Church.)

    But “defect of canonical form” has no application outside the Roman Catholic Church. Two baptized Protestants who marry each other are regarded by the Catholic Church as validly, sacramentally married (as opposed to “naturally married” if they are unbaptized). If one or both of them later decide to become Catholics, their marriage will still treated as valid. It’s only a Catholic who marries outside the Catholic Church who has the problem of defect of *canonical* form.

    A good many Catholic canon lawyers have argued that the whole idea that defect of canonical form renders a marriage invalid is probably incorrect, and certainly outdated. See, for example, these posts by Dr. Ed Peters:



    But my only point in mentioning “defect of canonical form” is that it’s an example of how ruling on sacramental validity can sometimes be intended to apply only to those who are members of the Church that makes the ruling.

    1. I understand your point, thanks Jesse. In my research, I came across Baptists and Presbyterians, as just two examples, who had used “We baptise…” wording. Your point seems to be that if such baptisms are accepted within, to stay with these examples, the Baptist and Presbyterian churches respectively, they would be understood to be valid for the Roman Catholic Church. I think such a clarification is needed by the Vatican. Then, ecumenically, there is the reverse. The Presbyterian Church, to stay with this example, accepts the validity of baptism in a Roman Catholic Church. In such cases, does it only accept the validity of baptisms recognised as valid by the Vatican, or does it accept the validity of a baptism which, because it was done using the “We…” form, is not recognised as valid by the Vatican? Blessings.

  6. Jesse, it wasn’t a Roman Catholic priest, it was a Roman Catholic deacon who performed the baptisms in question. And not likely because he intended to introduce heresy or error, but because deacons aren’t used to doing anything in their own name.

    1. Thanks for setting me right, David!

      You make an excellent point. In the ancient liturgies, deacons never offer prayer on behalf of the people: all their words are addressed either to the people (“Let us be attentive,” “Let us pray to the Lord”) or to the presiding priest/bishop (“Master, bless the…”).

      If I recall correctly, deacons only became “ordinary” ministers of baptism in Roman Catholicism after Vatican II. It’s perhaps quite natural that a deacon would feel that the “I” didn’t well accord with his order. (Compare the Ordinal in the 1662 BCP, which treats deacons as “extraordinary” ministers of baptism: “It appertaineth to the Office of a Deacon in the Church where he shall be appointed to serve … in the absence of the Priest to baptize Infants.”)

      I discover that a good number of non-Roman Catholic churches have also, formally or informally, adopted the “We baptize you” form. My best guess is that, in those contexts, “I baptize you” has come to be regarded as smacking of the bad old days of “clerical domination.” I wouldn’t put it past a Roman Catholic deacon to be of the same opinion…

  7. It’s hard to imagine that over the past 2000 years there hasn’t been a bishop who’s used the Episcopal ‘we’ at a baptism. A few days ago I saw online the installation of a Franciscan as a school chaplain here in an Australian diocese and as a part of it the licence from the archbishop was read … ‘We, N, by Divine Providence the Archbishop of X … do … by our …’ I remember loving all that sort of formal legal language when I was a kid and still do, kinda, but it did strike me as distinctly un-Franciscan.

    (As an aside Bosco, I think you’ll know Nick Lindo from school. He set us some kind of assignment about different registers in English writing and we had to collect various examples. When I produced the as-flowery-as-an-Archbishop’s-licence document which purported to ennoble him and his successors for ever as Dukes he described it as ‘a hitherto unexpected peculiar honour for a Tuesday morning’.)

    1. Thanks, Robert. David’s comment above, also highlights that deacons can often use the singular plural to differentiate themselves from priests and bishops. Blessings.

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